406. Ukraine: All Roads Lead to Urban

[Editor’s Note: Army Mad Scientist is pleased to present our latest episode of The Convergence podcast, featuring MAJ John Spencer (USA-Ret.), returning to discuss what has been learned about Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO), urban conflict, and the changing character of warfare from the last four plus months of Russia’s “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine — Enjoy!]

[If the podcast dashboard is not rendering correctly for you, please click here to listen to the podcast.]

MAJ John Spencer (USA-Ret.) is the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies with the Madison Policy Forum. He served over twenty-five years in the U.S. Army as an infantry Soldier, with two combat tours in Iraq as both an Infantry Platoon Leader and Company Commander. He has also served as a Ranger Instructor with the Army’s Ranger School, a Joint Chief of Staff and Army Staff intern, fellow with the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group, and Strategic Planner and Deputy Director of the Modern War Institute, where he was instrumental in the design and formation of the institute.

In today’s interview, MAJ Spencer returns to discuss what we’ve learned about LSCO, urban conflict, and the changing character of warfare from the last four plus months of Russia’s “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine.  The following bullet points highlight key insights from our interview:

      • Modern technology forces our societies, and those of our adversaries, to be more connected to the battlefield. As the Ukrainian “Tik-Tok” war demonstrates, such connectedness can allow actors outside of the war to leverage open-source intelligence to influence the conflict by providing either side with logistical support and operational advice.
      • It is important to study wars firsthand to understand how they are evolving to the modern context; the U.S. military used to employ appointed observers for this mission. Given that the battle for Kyiv is a truly urban fight, there is much the Army can learn from the conflict.
      • Image Source: Modern War Institute

        The battle for Kyiv demonstrates that, especially in an urban environment, terrain still matters. Ukrainians flooded rivers and destroyed bridges to canalize Russian invaders into chokepoints and kill zones, demonstrating an understanding of their environment unthinkable to non-natives.

      • The Russian invasion also demonstrates the importance of civilian involvement in urban conflict, as volunteers collaborated to establish defenses in depth, targeting and ambushing their attackers. Here, too, technology played an important role. Images and messages from the Ukrainian government and their fellow citizens helped strengthen citizens’ resolve to defend their country.
      • Today, Soldiers and their families are more connected by technology than ever, allowing them to live with a foot in each world. This feature of modern warfare is important as it prevents Soldiers from feeling isolated, but also gives civilian families a clearer understanding of the realities of warfare.
      • What are we missing?  The Army is not learning the lessons of modern war.  Future conflict will happen in urban areas.  The Army still doesn’t have a major school for urban warfare; and it still doesn’t have a unit focused on fighting in the urban environment.  We now have the 11th Arctic Division — where is our Urban Division?

Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory for our next episode of The Convergence — How Russia Fights, Part 2 — to be published in a fortnight on 21 July 2022.  To whet your appetite, read the highlights from Part 1 and listen to the associated podcast.


If you enjoyed today’s post, check out our previous post and podcast with MAJ SpencerWar in Ukraine: The Urban Fight is Happening Now and the associated podcast

… as well as the following related content:

TRADOC Pamphlet 525-92, The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Warfare

Waterworld: How Ukraine Flooded Three Rivers to Help Save Kyiv, by John Spencer and Liam Collins, published by our colleagues at Modern War Institute

Through Soldiers’ Eyes: The Future of Ground Combat, and associated podcast

Dense Urban Environments (DUE): Now through 2050

Dense Urban Hackathon – Virtual Innovation

Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Sign Post to the Future (Part 1) and Democratized Intelligence, by Kate Kilgore

Other People’s Wars: The US Military and the Challenge of Learning from Foreign Conflicts and associated podcast, with Dr. Brent L. Sterling

Russia Landing Zone content on the Operational Environment Enterprise public facing page

How will the RUS-UKR Conflict Impact Russia’s Military Modernization? by Dr. Jacob Barton

The Bear is Still There: Four Insights on Competition with Russia

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Army Futures Command (AFC), or Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

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